Hydrofracking's Ugly Secret: From Gas Wells, Bad Water

Radiation more than 1K times legal limit not properly treated
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2011 7:01 AM CST
Hydrofracking's Ugly Secret: From Gas Wells, Bad Water
Fracking opponents protest before the Tom Corbett inauguration to become the 46th governor of Pennsylvania at the state capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

It's called "hydrofracking"—injecting huge amounts of water, sand, and chemicals underground to break up rock formations and release natural gas—and it has an ugly secret. The technology allows energy companies to wring out small pockets of natural gas all across America—the number of gas wells has doubled to 493,000 since 1990, with 90% using hydrofracking. And while natural gas burns cleaner then coal or oil, hydrofracking also produces more dangerous waste than originally thought, discovered the New York Times: A single well can produce up to 1 million gallons of wastewater, full of corrosive salts, radioactive elements, and carcinogens—and it's often sent to sewage facilities that cannot handle it, then dumped into our water supply.

Among the findings in the New York Times expose, which is based on thousands of internal documents from the EPA, never-reported studies by the EPA, and a confidential study by the drilling industry:

  • The studies arrived at the same conclusion: The radioactivity in this wastewater can never be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.
  • Many sewage treatment plant operators told the Times that their facilities aren't able to remove radioactive material to the point where it meets federal drinking-water standard.
  • The problem is especially pronounced in Pennsylvania, which has 71,000 active gas wells. In the past three years, the state's wells have produced 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater—and most drinking-water plants downstream from the treatment plants haven't been tested for radioactivity since before 2006.
  • Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation that the Times looked into, 116 have levels of radium or radioactive materials that are 100 times the legal limit, and 15 have levels more than 1,000 times the legal limit.
  • The big danger of such radioactive wastewater is its potential to contaminate drinking water or slip into the food chain by way of fish or farming. Studies show that radium can cause cancer.
Click to read the entire expose. (More hydrofracking stories.)

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